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GROO & RUFFERTO

An enjoyable tale of a barbarian and his dog

By Jason Henderson     August 23, 2000

I'm not sure there's any comic that brings me more giddy joy than Sergio Aragones' Groo. Groo, that relentless and phenomenally stupid Conan-like barbarian who hacks his way through the vaguely Hyperborean paper dreams of Aragones, is like Godzilla. His charm lies in his complete lack of awareness; Groo and Godzilla can slaughter countless hordes and barely notice it, or slaughter them on purpose for all the wrong reasons and forget it instantly. After a while the locals get the idea that Groo and Godzilla are killing machines, forces of nature to be reckoned with. Groo will barely notice. He will rumble down the road, looking for cheese dip, meeting people and misunderstanding every word they say, and rushing headlong into battle--any battle, any side. Often, he will slay both sides of the battle if he finds their differences too confusing. Groo is Godzilla, but funnier.

And Groo has a dog. The spotted mutt is named Rufferto, and his character is as inspired a creation as Groo himself. Rufferto is much smarter than his barbarian master is (and Groo being Groo, this doesn't even seem much of a stretch), but at the same time he is even more naive. Rufferto better understands the situations Groo wanders into, but the dog possesses absolute faith. Aragones paints a sweet picture of a smart servant--here, a dog--who never once questions his resolution to serve his master. It lies beyond Rufferto's limited imagination to conceive of not following Groo. Better to follow Groo and remind him how many fingers represent 'three.'

Groo & Rufferto, here collected into a Dark Horse trade paperback, is the first Groo series to give Rufferto equal billing, and it's right to do so. In Groo & Rufferto, we finally get a look at the relationship between the barbarian and his dog. Aragones gives us enough time to see the pair in action and then splits them up to hunt for one another in desperation.

Aragones' story begins with Groo wandering into yet another ill-grasped 'fray,' a battle he brings to a halt by threatening to kill everyone on both sides until he can be sure he has killed the right man. This logic is good enough for the dog. The confusion Groo experiences, though, is tougher than usual. One side is the army of King Ravenus, a gold-loving tyrant who taxes his people into destitution. The other comprises either Freedom Fighters or thieves--depending on whom you ask--making off with food for the peasants. This is actually a tough distinction even if you're not Groo, but Groo handles it by scaring both sides away and consuming all the food himself.

This one encounter sets in motion a cascade of events in the Kingdom of Ravenus that swirl around Groo, while escaping him entirely. Groo becomes an enemy of the King and a champion of the people when he refuses to hand over his katana to tax collectors. But in Groo's world, Groo apparently cannot actually be injured, so he ignores the attacks from the king's soldiers. We learn that King Ravenus is a raving loon who spends his time swimming in heaps of gold, planning to gain more gold, and plotting to protect the gold he already has. Lately the King suspects he'll need to make a quick escape from the mob soon, and his wizard Anakrony is working on a 'Tempus powder' spell to send the subject into another era in a flash. Since Anakrony doesn't want to risk the royal flesh right away, he has the soldiers seize a dog to test it on, and wham, Rufferto is sent to modern-day Manhattan.

Now the story takes a wild and riveting turn, as Groo manages to summon enough brainpower to turn his attention to regaining his dog. He plops down in the center of the main bridge and demands that his dog be delivered to him, bringing the city to a halt until he gets what he wants. Aragones and Evanier play this stalemate for laughs, but I could see the plot device working seriously, as well. Even in the farce, the tension is palpable. No one has Groo's dog. The soldiers can't collect taxes. The peasants can't take their wares elsewhere. The nature of the city begins to change while Groo sits and stews, as the soldiers and peasants line up on either side of the river and alternately hurl epithets and shrug.

Meanwhile, Aragones and Evanier give us a chilling tour of our own world, here seen through the eyes of a small dog as Hell. Rufferto picks up a Virgilesque terrier who answers every question, as Rufferto encounters everything that casts our world so far from Conan-creator Robert Howard's Age--or Howard's Texas, for that matter. Rufferto runs from cars, meets the homeless, wanders into a movie theater and thinks the audience must be sacrifices to the horrors on the screen. He visits the zoo, where animals are ruined, and grocery stores, where food is unrecognizable. He wanders across a military base and wonders why warriors have become such cowards. He is shocked to learn we have no king, rather we choose our leader, then try to get rid of him. Rufferto comes across rush hour headed for the suburbs and recognizes it as a 'solemn death march.' 'How can animals--how can even people--live like this?' howls Rufferto.

And across time, a bulky, confused barbarian screams for his dog. As a dog owner I laughed, but had to cringe at the thought of Rufferto racing across traffic and through testing grounds. Everybody gets their just desserts in this story, but I didn't care as long as dog and master returned to one another.

Groo & Rufferto is a story that sneaks up on you. It's laugh-out-loud hilarious, of course, with a gag in nearly every panel, but that's not the point. Between the laughs is a poignant story with no easy answers. Groo & Rufferto made me smile more than anything I've read in months. But it made me think more, too. Aragones suggests that Groo has changed (unknowingly) the unjust world in which he lives and made it more like the unjust world in which we live. Would that we had Groo's ability to blissfully ignore it all.

Trade Paperback from Dark Horse. Art and story by Sergio Aragones. Wordsmithing by Mark Evanier. Colorist Tom Luth. Letterer Stan Sakai. Editor Scott Allie.

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